Iridium Sports Agency clients Nick Diaz (Welterweight) and Ian McCall (Flyweight) make Sherdog.com’s 2011 Awards for “Round of the Year” and “Comeback Fighter of the Year.”
Reposted from Sherdog linked above:
Nick Diaz outdueled Paul Daley in a five-minute shootout in San Diego this past April. | Photo: Sherdog.com
While 2010’s “Round of the Year” came from an altogether unexpected source — a frenetic three minutes between two Canadian featherweights on a little-watched WEC card in Edmonton
— the finest frame of 2011 could have been spotted coming a mile down the road.
With a matchup like Nick Diaz versus Paul Daley, jaw-dropping and brain-rattling exchanges were not only predicted or expected, they were all but guaranteed. Two of the sport’s preeminent punchers, the welterweights possessed dissimilar but equally vicious standup styles, with pre-fight bluster and in-cage mean streaks to match. It was a mixture destined to ignite at the opening bell, if not before.
Even with so much known, there was plenty to be discovered on April 9 in San Diego. Could Diaz, known for his mid-fight monologues and derisive gestures, get Daley to lose his cool? Would Diaz’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu come into play if “Semtex” detonated during another of the cranky Californian’s slow starts? And, as the stars of the first major Strikeforce event under Zuffa reign, could either man make a strong enough impression on cageside UFC brass to pave his path back to the Octagon?
A duel for Diaz’s Strikeforce 170-pound title, the bout was scheduled for 25 minutes. The participants beat out the answers — incidentally: not really, somewhat and yes — in a brutish one-fifth of that time.
Just as they’d attempted to while facing off at the previous day’s official weigh-in, Diaz and Daley went head-to-head as they met in the middle of the cage for final instructions, their scalps drawn together like magnets. Pushed apart by referee John McCarthy, the champion continued to crease his brow and mutter unkind words while the challenger grinned a wide, shiny mouthguard grin.
Three seconds after the bell, Diaz’s arms were already outstretched in his trademark exaggerated shrug before dropping to his sides as an invitation for Daley to throw. The Englishman took the offer and swung a well-placed leg kick into Diaz’s right knee, but Diaz was soon moving forward again, walking Daley into the cage, all the while chattering and gesticulating.
When Diaz moved too far inside, Daley used the Thai clinch to put his taller opponent on the fence and then backed up to swing the first tide-changer of the fight: a wide left hook which scrambled Diaz, and another behind it which dropped the champ to his knees. Looking more off-kilter than injured, Diaz kept his wits as he bobbed his head to avoid further punches, but the knockdown had nonetheless set Daley ablaze.
Diaz worked back to his feet, where he was greeted instantly by more knees and ill-intentioned haymakers from Daley. Unfazed, the titleholder waited out a burst and turned from orthodox to southpaw stance to slow Daley with a stiff jab. The pair tangled as they threw and Daley spun for a rear waistlock, releasing as soon as Diaz turned to grab at his arm.
Ninety seconds in, Diaz scored with his first solid combination of the bout, a left-straight and a pair of hooks to the body. Daley sought knees in the clinch again, but this time Diaz leaned him on the fence, creating enough space to punish Daley’s ribs. Once Diaz broke the challenger’s grip, he wasted no time in stepping back and unloading heat-seeking uppercuts to the gut and hooks to the face. As the punches piled on, Daley stumbled along the fence. Then, the muay Thai stylist did something to indicate just what kind of trouble he was in: Daley shot for a single-leg.
Daley got his takedown, aided by Diaz, who went to the ground on the possibility of a guillotine soon abandoned for closed guard. The grappling session was short lived, as Diaz wrapped up Daley and peppered with punches before driving for an ankle pick of his own. They reset on the feet once again.
The most enthralling thing about a matchup like Diaz-Daley is the constant, electric feeling that one punch from either man can drastically alter the course of the bout. With 2:20 left on the clock, there were still two such punches to come.
By this point, any effects of Daley’s early offense were long gone. Diaz had taken the reins and moved Daley toward the fence again with combinations, then stepped back to more carefully select his shots to the body. Though retreating, Daley would not stop throwing, tagging his longer foe with a pair of clean counter-punches before being shoved against the cage. Exiting with a series of elbows and hooks, Diaz backed away to meet his man in the middle, then shrugged off a high knee to stick more jabs in Daley’s face.
Daley swung his way out of a corner with wild punches and put some distance between himself and Diaz, who walked straight forward with his hands at his waist. Only now, when Diaz stuck out a pair of straight shots, Daley found an answer: a left hook over the top which pinged off Diaz’s temple and took the titlist’s legs out from beneath him.
Smelling blood, Daley shot to the ground and tried to pound out the kneeling Diaz. Unfortunately for the Briton, he was on Diaz’s right side — the wrong side, in this instance — and Diaz covered up well as he snuck his left arm around the back to grab Daley’s free wrist. By the time Daley stood and crashed through Diaz’s guard with hammerfists, the champ had recovered and was using wrist control to stymie further offense.
Daley stood to allow Diaz back up, and Diaz wisely butt-scooted away from the cage before going vertical again. There was a moment of hesitation before Diaz began lurching forward; was he still dazed? With 30 seconds to go, Daley looked to have the back-and-forth frame in the bag — until Diaz made his final push.
As soon as Daley’s back was once again flush to the fence, Diaz ripped into the challenger’s body with a left hook that changed everything. Daley doubled over and covered his head as three, four, five hard hooks came in. As Daley tried to sling desperate counter-punches, Diaz used his long arms to force the smaller man’s head downward. Daley succeeded in shoving Diaz away, but the momentum of the shove sent an already off-balance Semtex belly-flopping to the floor.
With only 10 seconds remaining, Diaz rushed in and dropped shots on his prone opponent. With only three ticks left on the clock, referee McCarthy made the call. This one was over, and the final stats from FightMetric bore out the result: Though Daley stung the champ by landing 20 of 62 significant strikes — a connection rate of 32 percent — the varied, high-volume attack of Diaz yielded 44 of 81 (54 percent) and helped set up the big finish.
Bouts such as this carry with them such high expectations of excitement and violence that, even when very good, they can be viewed as disappointments. Because Nick Diaz and Paul Daley delivered on every promise and then some, and because they did it all inside five minutes, they are the stars of Sherdog’s 2011 “Round of the Year.”
Nothing inside or outside the cage could hold down Ian McCall in 2011. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood
Comebacks in sports are typically predicated on one or two scenarios. The first, and most basic, is that an athlete of a particular caliber slips up and falls off their game before returning to form. Second, and often related to the first, is a situation in which an athlete battles personal demons before returning to the level of success he’d achieved prior, or perhaps even beyond.
MMA, like other sports, is littered with tales of car accidents, messy divorces and substance abuse that have besieged its athletes. Some recover, some never do.
Top-ranked flyweight Ian McCall’s 2011 comeback involved a little of Column A and a little of Column B. More specifically, a pretty bit of Column A and an awful lot of Column B.
Prior to 2011, the 27-year-old McCall was known almost entirely, if at all, for his three WEC appearances at 135 pounds. Few saw his entertaining win over Coty Wheeler, and those aware he lost to Dominick Cruz knew mostly from looking at Cruz’s record once he took over the division. No, the specific appearance in the little blue cage that most remember McCall for was his resounding loss to veteran Charlie Valencia in December 2007.
Valencia unleashed a hellacious, overhead-release, belly-to-back suplex on McCall that sent him flying across the cage in gruesome and comedic fashion. When McCall recovered, he was thrown in a vicious guillotine that forced him to haplessly tap out. This animated GIF fodder was the one moment synonymous with McCall’s name.
When the Valencia fight is now broached, McCall has a wry smile and rolls his eyes. It’s easy to be dismissive of such a slip-up when you’ve come so far since.
“I’d like to get back the last five years of my life. If I was training consistently the whole time, I would be a black belt in jiu-jitsu and smoking everyone,” McCall told me in August.
Ian McCall outgrew his beating
from Charlie Valencia.
“If I had an extra 10,000 hours invested, it’d be great, but I’m on borrowed time. I’ve got to make this all right, and the best way for me to do that is to just keep fighting and to raise my family.”
Those five years that McCall talks about, formative
ones for a young prizefighter, were squandered. McCall’s life was like a documentary-style glimpse about the shiftless, destructive, privileged youth of Orange County. He rolled with gangs of kids in luxury sedans, looking to fight anyone, even bystanders on the street. McCall refers to himself as a “whore” when recalling his promiscuous partying. His reliance on drugs such as Oxycontin, Xanax and GHB had DEA agents show up to his house, and even led to overdoses that put him in intensive care.
McCall once told me that approximately 30 people he would have considered friends, people he would have said hello to on the street, are now dead. One of his first MMA and jiu-jitsu coaches, Jeremy Williams, kicked him out of Apex Jiu-Jitsu because of his drug use. Williams took his own life in May 2007 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Nineteen months later, McCall was the first non-police officer on the scene when his friend and UFC veteran Justin Levens and his wife Sarah McLean-Levens were found in their Laguna Niguel condo, in an apparent murder-suicide.
A prolonged and painful divorce was the catalyst for much of McCall’s hard living. However, when he overdosed on another pharmaceutical cocktail again in November 2010, it was his family that put him on the inside track to success.
“It was all a train wreck — everything, the family, my life. It was honestly terrible, dude. Then one day, I just matured and said, ‘This is f—– up. I can’t keep going like this. I love these people,’” McCall said, recalling his family at his bedside and the realization that he needed to get his affairs in order.
From the intensive care unit, McCall unfathomably accepted a February bout with top-ranked flyweight Jussier da Silva for Tachi Palace Fights 8 in Lemoore, Calif. It would be just his second fight in two years.
McCall’s 2011 got him Tachi gold
and a chance for UFC gold.
After spending a round with then-undefeated da Silva on his back, McCall cruised through the final 10 minutes of the bout to win in an emotional upset with major ramifications in the 125-pound division. Three months later, he schooled another unbeaten, Dustin Ortiz, in a thrilling 15-minute exhibition of well-rounded MMA skill.
Prior to the Ortiz win, McCall flirted with the idea of making a run on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14, at bantamweight. When I asked McCall that night in Lemoore, Calif., after the Ortiz win if he would go the “TUF” route, he showed off the kind of newly improved decision making that guided his recent success.
“I feel like this is my niche. I can be the best here. Plus, those dudes were huuuuge,” he laughed.
In August, he put together a mature, consummate dismantling of Tachi Palace champ Darrell Montague to take the promotion’s 125-pound crown. Montague, like McCall’s other two 2011 victims, will probably be joining “Uncle Creepy” in the Octagon in the very near future.
Prior to 2011, Ian McCall was a footnote, a WEC undercarder who once went out in hilarious fashion and teetered on the brink of being another upper middle class family trauma victim. Yet, in a matter of months, under the tutelage of Colin Oyama and Giva Santana transformed into the top-ranked 125-pounder in the world. Further, in the development of his Uncle Creepy character, complete with faux-pompadour and Dali mustache, McCall has fashioned himself into a true MMA cult favorite. He’s now a husband, and a father to a young daughter.
McCall’s life and career turnaround is an easy victor for “Comeback Fighter of the Year.” Not only are his accomplishments in the cage considerable, but he bolstered the legitimacy of the whole flyweight division, helping the drumbeat for MMA’s flyweights to enter the Octagon grow louder. As reward for those accomplishments, he’ll be one of four men who bring the 125-pound division to the UFC when he takes on Demetrious Johnson in Sydney, Australia, with a shot at the UFC flyweight title on the line.
It is only appropriate.